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Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 18 | Summary



Julian West and Dr. Leete have an evening chat, and Julian wonders why men retire so early in the new social order. He argues that men have 10 to 20 more years of good labor in them after the age of 45 and that some men would object to having to give up their professions so young. Dr. Leete explains that men look forward to retirement. It is a time when they are free to pursue their interests, "devote ourselves to the higher exercise of our faculties," travel, and enjoy life. Because of increased standards of health care, life expectancy is longer, and men can anticipate whatever they choose to pursue in the second half of their lives after retirement as "the full enjoyment of our birth-right." Julian asks Dr. Leete about professional sports. The doctor assures Julian that sports are still enjoyed by many, but for "glory only" rather than money. Dr. Leete believes recreation is an essential need of man, second after food, so it is to be supplied and protected by the nation.


The author presents a new view of retirement, in contrast to how people in Julian West's day would have viewed it. In this utopian society, retirement is something which people anticipate with eagerness. Julian learns to his surprise that 20th-century citizens view retirement as a beginning, not as an end. Dr. Leete views it as a chance to finally begin to "exercise" one's highest faculties. Retirement is the entry to a new phase of life, not a shadowy exit from the only stage of life in which they will receive challenge, reward, or pleasure. In contrast, retirement is what they look forward to, rather than something to dread or accept.

The author also presents the function of recreation in a utopia, explaining in yet another way how life under 20th-century nationalism is vastly superior to that under 19th-century capitalism. In contrast to the 19th century in which recreation was reserved for those with the means and luxury of time to pursue it, in the 20th century recreation is considered a necessity that the state provides. Recreation is considered "a close second" to the necessity of food, to sustain life; therefore, it is the responsibility of the nation, as caretaker, to provide for that need. Although Dr. Leete doesn't get into specifics, readers can deduce that recreation in various forms is subsidized by the government.

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